The Curse of the Law: Part 2 – Why Yeshua Was Rejected

I concluded the last post by noting, “What this means is that, contrary to common Christian interpretation, the Jewish people were not cursed because we rejected Yeshua. On the contrary, the Jews had already been under the curse of the law for over seven hundred years before Yeshua came. In fact, the rejection of Yeshua by all but a minority of Jews was the result of the curse, not the cause of it!”

Isaiah2Today, I want to expand on that idea.

One of the most often quoted passages from the Tanakh in the New Testament is Isaiah 6:9-10: “He said, “Go, and tell this people, ‘You hear indeed, but don’t understand; and you see indeed, but don’t perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.” Yeshua quotes it in explaining why he had to explain spiritual matters to the masses only in parables (Mat. 13:14f, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, cf. 9:45), while John (12:40) and Luke (Acts 28:26f) invoke it to explain why so few Jews came to believe in him. Isaiah was given this prophecy at the beginning of his ministry, a ministry which tradition holds came to an end when his own uncle, King Manasseh, had him put to death by sawing him in half with a wooden saw (cf. Heb. 11:37). (One cannot help but wonder of Isaiah’s martyrdom was the final straw in the breaking of the covenant, making the death of Yesha’yahu parallel to the death of Yeshua.)

Isaiah was prophetically warned that his words would not be heeded in his lifetime, but when God finally determined the Sinaic covenant to be truly and irrevocably broken on Israel’s end–”my covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them” (Jer. 31:32)–God’s warning to Isaiah became part and parcel of the curse.

“The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), and the curse specified two separate exiles separated by a nation coming to “besiege you in all your towns” (Deu. 28:52). The first exile had already taken place, and the Apostles knew by Yeshua’s word that the second was soon to come. Had the whole nation accepted Yeshua, all Israel together would have died to the Sinaic covenant and been reborn to the New–and the prophecy of Moses would have been broken.

Of course, it was also Hashem’s plan to use the time of Israel’s punishment to affect a far greater salvation than just one nation: “I ask then, did they stumble that they might fall? May it never be! But by their fall salvation has come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. Now if their fall is the riches of the world, and their loss the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?” (Rom. 11:11-12). The phrase “provoke to jealousy” is parazelosai in the Greek, which really means “stimulate alongside” or “[cause] parallel zealousness.” In other words, it’s not a creation of envy, but of a competition in zealousness that would direct the hearts of Israel back to her God and King.

So why then has history not demonstrated the truth of Paul’s prediction? In 1893, H. C. G. Moule answered:

It is the fault, the grievous fault, of us Christians. The narrow prejudice, the iniquitous law, the rigid application of exaggerated ecclesiastical principle, all these things have been man’s perversion of the divine idea, to be confessed and deplored in a deep and interminable repentance. May the mercy of God awaken Gentile Christendom, in a manner and degree as yet unknown, to remember this our indefeasible debt to this people everywhere present with us, everywhere distinct from us; -the debt of a life, personal and ecclesiastical, so manifestly pure and loving in our Lord the Christ as to “move them to the jealousy” which shall claim Him again for their own. Then we shall indeed be hastening the day of full and final blessing, both for themselves and for the world.

Fifteen centuries before, Hashem spoke through the pen of Moses the very prophecy that Paul alludes to in Romans: “They have made me jealous (Heb. qanah, indicating the “heat” of zealousness and passion) with what is not God . . . so I will make them jealous (zealous) with those who are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deu. 32:21). Those “not a people” refers to the Christians, who are of every nation and yet of none; why then are the Christians then referred to as “a foolish nation” in the parallel clause? The word “foolish,” nabal, usually has the connotation of “wickedness” (cf. v.6; Psa. 14:1; Isa. 32:5). By this parallelism, Hashem teaches us a bitter truth: When the disciples of Yeshua act as those who are not a people, but of all peoples, they provoke Israel to parallel zealousness. But when they take up political power and act foolishly and wickedly, they only stir up Israel’s anger against the King they claim to serve.

JosiahThough those in Israel with ears to hear knew that the covenant had been broken, they never ceased in trying to put the pieces back together. The first to attempt to do so was Josiah. Even after being told by the prophetess Hulda that he could only delay the outpouring of God’s punishment on Judah, not abate it (2Ki. 22:14-20), Josiah attempted to renew the covenant:

The king went up to the house of the LORD, and all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem with him, and the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, both small and great: and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant which was found in the house of the LORD. The king stood by the pillar, and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and all his soul, to confirm the words of this covenant that were written in this book: and all the people stood to the covenant. . .

Like him was there no king before him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the Torah of Moses; neither after him arose there any like him. Notwithstanding, the LORD didn’t turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, with which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocation with which Manasseh had provoked him. (23:2-3, 25-26)

Josiah was the last good king, and the last free king, Judah would ever have until the coming of the Messiah. His successors became vassals to Egypt and Babylon, and after several failed attempts to throw off the yoke of Babylon in defiance of God’s decree, the nation went into exile. While Jeremiah prophesied that there would indeed be a new covenant to replace the broken one, it was not to come about in his day, nor for many centuries after. The curse had begun its course, and could not be stopped until every line of it had been fulfilled. Israel would go into exile.

When the exiles were released from Babylon by the Cyrus the Persian, only about 50,000 saw fit to return to the Land. Under the leadership of Zerubabbel, Joshua, Ezra, and Nehemiah, they rebuilt the temple. The Holy One sent a few prophets during this rebuilding like Haggai, Malachi, and Zechariah to encourage the work to continue, but the result was small and pitiful compared to the beauty of Solomon’s temple (Hag. 2:3). More importantly, all of the spiritual and supernatural graces that made Solomon’s temple and the tabernacle before it true dwelling places for the Presence of the Almighty were gone: “In the Second Temple there wanted the fire from Heaven, the Ark with the Mercy Seat, and cherubim, Urim and Thummim, the Sh’khinah (Divine presence), the Holy Spirit, and the anointing oil.” While a remnant of the exiles had returned, the covenant had not been restored.

When Nehemiah arrived to see to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and the restoration of the city, he led the people in a prayer of repentance and in the signing of a covenantal document, a contract as it were, stipulating the duties of the people to support the new temple. Doubtless, he hoped that this new covenant would be the one Jeremiah had prophesied. But again, the curse had not run its course, and the sincere repentance of the small minority in Jerusalem could not turn it back.

Many of the sects of Judaism continued in the attempt to bring the people back into a state of holiness in the hopes that Hashem would forgive Israel and return the Divine Presence to the temple. Some, like the Essenes, calling themselves the Sons of the Light, withdrew into their own communities and focused solely on raising the level of purity and holiness of their members to the highest level possible so as to be ready to follow the coming Messiah when he arrived. (Ironically, that very Messiah criticized their withdrawal from society; Luke 16:8.) Others, like the Pharisees, attempted to lead the nation into repentance by their example. They attempted to build “fences” around the Torah in the form of their traditions–traditions that continue in Judaism to this day–in the hope that if they built the fences high enough and far enough away from the actual point of sin, Israel could achieved a righteousness sufficient to restore the broken relationship with the Holy One. They were frustrated by the very human failings both within and without their fellowships, particularly the failing of substituting ritual for true faith and faithfulness in the heart, and by the failure to hearken to the voice of the Prophet Moses had promised (Deu. 18:18) and the King that they had wished for and looked for all their lives.

So if all this is true, the covenant was broken, and it couldn’t be restored by Israel trying to keep it as in the days of Moses, what then could be done?

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